Mercy For Animals (MFA) is an international non-profit organization dedicated to preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies, founded in October 1999. Nathan Runkle is the group's executive director and founder. Focusing primarily on advocacy on behalf of farmed animals, MFA runs a number of campaigns that aim to educate the public on animal protection issues and to encourage them to adopt a vegan diet. It has engaged in several undercover investigations, primarily of egg farms, and has produced television commercials showing the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses and factory farms. MFA is headquartered in Los Angeles.
Nathan Runkle founded Mercy For Animals in October 1999 after an incident in his home town in which he said that a live baby piglet was slammed by its head onto a concrete floor by a high school student during class. The incident caused an uproar in the small town, and Runkle took the initiative to start an organization that would fight against animal abuse.
Between 2000 and 2003, Mercy For Animals conducted several undercover investigations in egg-producing factory farms and rodeos. In addition to distributing 40,000 pieces of literature and participating in 130 educational outreach events in 2004, Mercy For Animals authored their Vegetarian Starter Kit, a 32-page booklet containing information about factory farms, vegan recipes, and food tips. Their new website ChooseVeg.com was also launched, along with TV commercials on MTV claiming factory farm cruelty.
In 2005, the organization reported animal cruelty through an undercover investigation at Ohio's largest egg farm, Ohio Fresh Eggs. The Vegetarian-Friendly Ohio campaign was expanded with the release of the 3rd-edition of the Vegetarian Guide to Ohio and updated website VegOhio.com. A new office was opened in Chicago, Illinois, which subsequently became the organization's primary branch. In 2006 it was named Non-Profit of the Year by VegNews magazine, expanded its outreach campaigns, and began airing its latest pro-vegetarian commercial on MTV.
Mercy For Animals distributed 200,000 pieces of vegetarian literature in 2007, and conducted over 220 public outreach events. An undercover investigation at one of the country's largest chicken and turkey slaughterhouses resulted in the Denny's restaurant chain ending its supplier relationship with the slaughterhouse. MFA debuted its Compassionate Living (CL) magazine, and placed over 80 anti-fur advertisements on the Washington, D.C. metrorail.
In 2008, Mercy For Animals generated over 230 newspaper articles, radio interviews, and TV news stories about factory farming and veganism. Pro-vegetarian ad campaigns were launched in Chicago and Boston, new websites ChooseVegBlog.com, VegNC.com, and VegNJ.com were created, and animal abuses were exposed at two of the largest egg farms in California, resulting in the eventual passing of Prop 2. Mercy for Animals distributed 400,000 pieces of literature during 2009, and held over 400 public outreach events. 15 pro-vegetarian billboards were launched in Denver, resulting in more than 12 million views. Ad campaigns were dispatched on public transit in Toronto, New York City, and Boston. Undercover videos alleged animal cruelty at New England's largest egg factory farm, the world's largest egg-laying breed hatchery, and one of the nation's largest pig breeding facilities. A new office was opened in New York City, and MFA's documentary, Fowl Play, was released.
In 2001, Mercy For Animals videotaped conditions at Buckeye Egg Farm and Daylay Egg Farm, calling the footage Silent Suffering. The group has since used the footage in their film, Fowl Play, which was selected as "best short documentary" at the Fallbrook Film Festival in 2009, and was an official selection at the Las Vegas International and Chicago United Film Festivals.
In August and September 2001, the group engaged in an open rescue of 34 hens from Buckeye and DayLay, and during 2001–2003, along with two other animal rights groups, they infiltrated seven large-scale egg farms in Ohio, Maryland, and Minnesota.
In 2002 and 2003, they conducted a seven-month infiltration into rodeo in Ohio; according to MFA's website, their activists filmed animals being punched, kicked, shocked with electric prods, and beaten with iron rods.
In 2007, an activist went undercover into House of Raeford Farms, Inc. in Raeford, North Carolina, working on the so-called "live-hang" area, where live chickens and turkeys are shackled and hanged before being slaughtered. The group's website says the activist filmed workers punching, kicking, sexually assaulting, and throwing birds, as well as pulling their heads off while they were still alive.
On August 31, 2009, Mercy For Animals released an undercover video showing footage they had shot in a hatchery owned by Hy-Line North America, a company based in West Des Moines. The video shows workers throwing male chickens alive into a grinding machine. Hy-Line said that what the company called "instantaneous euthanasia" is a standard practice, supported by the veterinary and scientific community.
Mercy For Animals sent letters to 50 largest grocery store chains in the U.S., including Walmart, Whole Foods, Safeway, Harris Teeter, and Trader Joe's, asking them to post a label on egg cartons, saying, "Warning: Male chicks are ground-up alive by the egg industry." A spokesman for United Egg Producers, a trade group for U.S. egg farmers, called the proposal "almost a joke." Mercy For Animals estimates that 200 million male chicks are killed every year, a figure confirmed by United Egg Producers.
In May 2010, Mercy For Animals released videos of workers at Conklin Dairy Farm, in Ohio, abusing cows and calves. The videos resulted in the arrest of one worker.
On April 20, 2011, they released an undercover video taken at the E6 Cattle Co. ranch in Castro County, Texas, which depicted four farmworkers "repeatedly bludgeoning sick and injured calves with pickaxes and hammers." The video showed the same four employees dragging the calves, throwing them, kicking them, and standing on the animals' necks. It also depicted calves beaten but still conscious, left to die in a pile; calves dehorned without anesthesia; sick and injured calves being actively denied medical care; and calves with severed hooves. Mercy for Animals said they randomly selected the E6 Cattle ranch, and spent two weeks filming there.
The ranch, established in 2006 to provide bottle-fed calves to dairies and for consumption, is owned by rancher Kirt Espenson. "Every part of that video is undefendable," Espenson told a local television station. He said his ranch had a policy of euthanizing sick or injured calves with a contact shot from a rifle. Espenson also said animals had been denied medical care, but only out of a concern that drugs might enter the human food consumption chain. He also claimed his animal pens met or exceeded industry standards for size, cleanliness, and other factors. Matt Rice, Mercy For Animals' director of operations, alleged that the undercover MFA worker reported incidents of animal abuse to Espenson several times and nothing was done. Rice also said Espenson can be seen in the video admitting that certain animals should be denied medical care, and that they should be euthanized with hammers.
Eight dairy and cattle organizations in Texas condemned the actions depicted in the video, as did the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA, while reserving judgment about whether the video was representative of what occurred at the ranch, said the actions in the MFA video were "barbaric, inhumane and unacceptable." The Castro County Sheriff's Office launched a criminal investigation into the incident, and Espenson said he was cooperating with them.
Between May and August 2011, an MFA investigator worked undercover at Sparboe Farms, the fifth largest egg producing factory in the United States, and a supplier to McDonald's. MFA reported that workers at Sparboe Farms were burning the beaks off chicks without painkillers, throwing live birds in plastic bags to suffocate, and leaving dead hens to rot next to hens still laying eggs for human consumption.
This investigation received media attention that caused McDonald's, Target, Sam's Club, and Supervalu to all stop buying their eggs from Sparboe Farms. Mercy for Animals also filed a legal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Sparboe for consumer fraud.
Between April and June 2011, MFA investigated Select Farms in Kamrar, Iowa, one of the biggest pork suppliers in the US, and reported that mother pigs were confined in gestation crates, sick and injured pigs were left to die, and piglets were castrated without painkillers. After the investigation received media attention, Costco, Kroger, and Safeway dropped Iowa Select as a meat supplier.
An MFA activist who worked undercover at a North Carolina factory turkey farm affiliated with the Butterball turkey company recorded footage of an employee engaging in what the group called "acts of violence and severe neglect". The farm was raided by Hoke County detectives in December, 2011, although the Director of Animal Health Programs at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture tipped off an employee ahead of time. She was suspended from her job and sentenced to 45 days in jail as a result. One employee was charged and found guilty of felonious animal cruelty and Butterball fired several other employees for their part as well.
In December 2013, MFA released undercover footage showing workers at Wiese Brothers Farm beating, kicking, whipping, and stabbing cows, and dragging the animals with ropes. The video prompted Nestlé-owned DiGiorno and its cheese supplier, Foremost Farms, to drop its use of dairy products from the Wisconsin farm. Two employees were fired by owner Mark Wiese, who said the farm has taken steps to ensure proper treatment of the animals in light of the video. Local law enforcement are conducting an investigation of Wiese Brothers Farm. Four workers have subsequently been charged with animal cruelty.
A MFA investigation of government-owned slaughterhouses in Mexico uncovered widespread abuse, with animals shocked, bludgeoned, strung upside down, stabbed, and cut open while still conscious.
Mercy for Animals had been one of Animal Charity Evaluators' (ACE) three Top Charities in each of its recommendations from May 2014 to November 2016, but is no longer recommended as of November 2017. Animal Charity Evaluators had cited Mercy For Animals' willingness to modify its approach based on evidence to achieve maximum effectiveness and their successful programs, particularly their undercover investigations and related corporate and legal campaigns, as reasons for their earlier Top Charity recommendation, but in November 2017, MFA declined to be reviewed or to publish their review, so ACE's review is not current enough to support the previous recommendation of MFA as a Top Charity.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture accused Mercy For Animals of posing a "biosecurity hazard" with its "covert investigations". The director of the department urged farmers to file charges against Mercy for Animals for trespassing, burglary, and other illegal means, but charges were not pursued by state prosecutors. A spokesperson for the United Egg Producers said that the egg industry would provide male chicks if there were a demand. The trade group also said that birds were endangered by camera lights used by the investigators.
In 2011, state legislators in Iowa introduced several bills that, if enacted, would place the nation's toughest restrictions on undercover recordings at animal food production facilities. The bills would also bar an individual from taking a job at an animal food production facility for the sole purpose of exposing animal cruelty or taking undercover videos. The Florida legislature is considering similar legislation, and would make such a crime a first-degree felony.
In January 2014, roughly six weeks after an MFA investigation uncovered animal cruelty at an Oklahoma farm, Tyson Foods announced new animal welfare guidelines for its pork suppliers. These guidelines include phasing out gestation crates by 2022 and ending the use of "manual blunt force" to kill piglets. In November 2013, Tyson Foods terminated its contract with West Coast Farms after NBC aired footage of the abuse.
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